Tom Herbert

Repost: Bjorn Borg at the Chengdu Open

The Ice Man in the City of Spice

As the door to the press room opened there was a moment of silence.  In came the man with long silver hair, and in an instant all the memories came flooding back.

Bjorn to play - photograph by Pierre Honore

Bjorn to play – photograph by Pierre Honore

The pre-match rituals, the rock star beard, the wooden racquet and the ice-cool persona – not to mention the 11 Grand Slam victories. Was this the man whose classic matches brightened up a thousand rain-breaks? Whose rivalry with John McEnroe transcended sport in the early ‘80s, making them two of the most famous athletes, indeed men, on the planet?

He may no longer have the beard or the wooden racquet, and is carrying a few more pounds than in his heyday. But standing calmly in the cramped meeting room deep in the bowels of the new Chengdu International Tennis Arena, somehow making his all-white 70s-style tracksuit look fashionable, the tanned figure of Bjorn Borg is looking as much a superstar as ever.

Despite losing his first Chengdu Open group match earlier in the day to fellow Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic, Borg was on fine form, joking that the powerful Croatian may have been a little too strong for him.

But he still relishes the challenge of coming up against players from a younger generation, and the 53 year-old Swede was also positive about life on the Masters Tour: “Every time you step onto a tennis court it’s fun and it’s always nice to visit new places and see the guys too. We have fun together even if we’re very competitive on the court, and it’s a nice atmosphere.”

This year Chengdu is the only tournament Borg will play, and he explained: “I’ve played in a lot of tournaments over the last two years, and although I still enjoy playing it’s getting tougher to compete as the guys are getting younger and younger.”

In terms of the modern professional game, two players stand head and shoulders above everyone else in Borg’s eyes: “I enjoy watching Federer-Nadal matches; I haven’t missed one match [of theirs]. They bring out the best in each other, two different styles, two unbelievable tennis players. Watching them I know exactly how they feel if it comes down to a close match, and the rivalry that they have is the same kind of rivalry that McEnroe and I had.”

Borg meets Tom - photo by Pierre Honore

Borg meets Tom – photo by Pierre Honore

In spite of the dazzling array of former champions on offer at the Chengdu International Tennis Arena, a large-scale advertising campaign and blanket press coverage, attendance over the first few days has been patchy. When it comes to the current state of the Chinese game Borg is slightly circumspect.

“The women’s game here is in a good way – they have some great players like Li Na and [local favourite] Jie Zheng, and more coming through, but the men still have a long way to go”, he said. “There isn’t much of a tennis culture here at the moment, but the country is developing so fast and hopefully events like this will change things”.

When he’s not touring or looking after his clothing range, Borg now splits his time between Sweden and Monte Carlo, and still hits the court regularly.

“Tennis is a part of my life, and when I’m home I play quite a lot with the juniors,” he said.

He also plays every week with his 24-year-old son Robin whom he admits is getting “pretty close” to beating his father.

After shocking the world with his retirement at the age of 26, with the world seemingly at his feet, Borg admits he had to contend with many problems both personal and financial, but he now seems content both on and off the court, and is looking forward to the future.

“Life is good! Maybe next year I might play one or two tournaments – I still enjoy it! My wife and I were in Shanghai last year and we always enjoy coming to China. This is certainly not going to be the last time we visit.”

With the photo calls done and the interviews conducted, all of which were handled in the same jovial, courteous manner, a smiling Borg walked out of the press room.  As he left there was once again a moment of silence, as everyone in the room quietly added one more memory of the silver-haired superstar to the collection.


Bjorn Borg Fact File

Born: 6 June 1956, Stockholm, Sweden

Turned pro: 1973 (aged 17)

Retired: 1983 (aged 26)

Career record: 608–127 (82.7%)

Career titles: 64

Grand Slam titles: 11 (6 French Open titles, 5 Wimbledon titles)

Prize money: $3,655,751

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